What makes an anti-Semite?- By Dina Porat
In January 2005, an international working definition of anti-Semitism was accepted for the first time since the term was coined in the late 19th century. This definition, approved in June 2005 at a conference in Cordoba, Spain, is the result of a joint effort on the part of two institutions – a center established in Vienna by the European Union to monitor racism and xenophobia, and a center set up in Warsaw by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to strengthen the institutions of democracy and human rights among its 55 member countries.
And this is the essence of the international working definition of anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” However, why was a new, international, practical definition needed, and why did non-Jewish organizations invest ongoing efforts in discussions on its formulation? After all, there has been no shortage of different definitions of anti-Semitism ever since the term was first coined 125 years ago in
A long list of personalities and institutions sought to define the anti-Semite and the Jew he so hates: Jean-Paul Sartre, who sarcastically defined an anti-Semite, blaming the Jews for every tragedy, as a man who fears not Jews, but himself and the need to accept his responsibility; Encyclopedia Britannica, which as early as 1966 defined opposition to Zionism as anti-Semitism, but whose dictionary still features to “Jew Down” as a verb meaning to insist on haggling and deception; the Jewish Encyclopedia, published in the United States about one hundred years ago, includes a description of Jews as being perceived by others as greedy people, who are tribal in nature, devoid of tact and patriotism, and evade hard work; or the definition of Prof. Jacob Toury, of Tel Aviv University, who in the 1970s described anti-Semitism as a manipulation of sentiments directed against an unrealistic figure for political purposes.
However, our focus here is not on the definitions of learned people, but on international bodies and their perception of anti-Semitism as a problem that needs fixing. It is hard to believe, but even the United Nations, for example, did not define anti-Semitism or racism after World War II; no international organization mentioned these two basic terms in the basic conventions that were formulated and signed after that war, even though racism and anti-Semitism were among the primary causes of its outbreak.
Various international conventions mention tolerance and minority rights in very general terms, indicating a desire to forget the past and not to blame a specific person or regime. When the Cold War began,
For almost 50 years, from the end of the Second World War until the early 1990s, anti-Semitism is not mentioned and is certainly not defined in the documents, conventions or summaries of European and international conferences. Since 1990, with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the reunification of
At the same time, expressions of anti-Semitism were clearly voiced by the extreme right, which blamed the Jews for bringing in foreigners and profiting from their labor; and by the left, which accused the Jews of being behind the spread of globalization because of their being owners of giant corporations and international banks; and by the immigrants, primarily Muslims, who were not absorbed by their host countries and occasionally vented their frustration on the veteran Jewish communities.
Therefore, the 1990s were filled with conferences and initiatives whose goal was to strengthen human rights and to promote the fight against racism. At a huge conference (numbering 5,000 participants) organized by the UN in Vienna in
Even the August 2001 Durban conference in South Africa, which the UN’s bodies had prepared for more than two years and which was supposed to have been the world conference with a capital “W” against racism, strayed from its set agenda and turned into a forum for anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism. The conference did not resolve a single one of the many problems and tensions experienced by immigrants. Violent anti-Semitism continued to increase, at first parallel to the second intifada but later, especially in Western Europe, also without any connection to the
The definition presents a list of acts and statements that are anti-Semitic because they are directed against Jews, harm them, or incite against them, and therefore their perpetrators can be tried and punished. Laws prohibiting anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial already exist in a dozen countries and if anti-Semitism is a form of racism, it is also possible to punish perpetrators under laws prohibiting racism.
One may argue with the approach behind the definition, which disconnects the motive from the action and focuses solely on the action and the statement. Even the boundary between freedom of speech and incitement needs to be refined and it will be difficult to find or enact a single, uniform law that will address all components. However, this does mark a courageous step and an effort to find ways to deal with acts of anti-Semitism. Whether the definition will truly be able to serve as a solid foundation that remains relevant in the face of an intensification of anti-Semitism, and as the elements included in it become the bon ton, only time will tell.